PECKED TO DEATH BY DUCKS

The master of adventure writing (Road Fever, 1991; A Wolverine Is Eating My Leg, 1989, etc.) continues his spree with another collection of high-wire essays culled from National Geographic, Rolling Stone, etc. ``I have been in the business of giving people back their dreams,'' declares Cahill, who means to say that he does what others only dare to dream about. This collection starts with a bang—actually, a hellish sequence of eruptions—as Cahill wanders through the apocalyptic, burning landscape of postwar Kuwait: ``The whole world smelled like a diesel engine....The ground was black, the sky was black, the drifting clouds were black.'' This ominous note recurs in other essays, some of which describe moments of real fear: stalking a grizzly in Yellowstone; facing down a silverback gorilla in Africa; undertaking a hazardous ascent of El Capitan in Yosemite (``I thought, not for the first time, Why am I doing this?''). But Cahill is a wag as well as a risk-taker, and the laughs are many, whether at defecating in a latrine over a bat-filled abyss or at watching his shoes melt during the first day of a trek across Death Valley. Beauty, too, makes the danger worthwhile. Spelunking in Lechuguilla Cave, Cahill finds ``crystals the size of small trees, forests of aragonite flowers, huge-domed pits, rooms as high as thirty-story buildings.'' Paradise itself sometimes comes his way, usually in the form of isolated islands: Tonga, where he spaces out on kava, or Peru's Taquile, where everyone gets married on May 3rd. Other pieces cover falconry, ice fishing, paragliding, bungee jumping, and similar Tarzanish topics. Some rocks block his path—a piece on Elisabeth Clare Prophet is dull, another on cattle mutilation is tasteless. But who ever scaled a mountain without a few setbacks? Not up to Road Fever's turbo-charged standards but, still, manna for Cahill fans, who should be legion by now.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1993

ISBN: 0-679-40735-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1992

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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DEAR MR. HENSHAW

Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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